"I wonder if I've been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!"
Well, that was different. And fun, wasn't it?
For the first time in what feels like a decade, our LSU Tigers won a game primarily driven by exceptional play from the quarterback position. And there can be no overstating how well Zach Mettenberger played against a very good TCU defense, one that will likely end up as a top 10 defense in the country yet again. Mettenberger's stat line did not reflect the absolute command of the offense that he displayed, his advanced decision making, poise in the pocket, and the staggering arm talent that he showcased in delivering pinpoint passes into some of the smallest windows possible against phenomenal coverage by two of the best cornerbacks in the entire country.
To be sure, Mettenberger now has to show that he can remain consistent through what is going to be a brutal upcoming schedule. LSU is facing another eight straight weeks before a bye week, with five straight SEC games, three of which are on the road. No amount of talent will make that an easy gauntlet to navigate. Fortunately, the Tiger offense has the next two games which they should win easily to continue to build on the progress they've been making since midseason last year, and to develop that all important killer instinct that will be needed as the challenges become more intense.
But there can no longer be any misunderstanding about the fact that no LSU quarterback since Jamarcus Russell has had anywhere near the talent and potential that Zach Mettenberger does. When combined with the type of dominant pass protection and outstanding play from Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. that we saw on Saturday night, this LSU offense, specifically the dominant passing game, could be virtually unstoppable.
How wonderful does this feel? It's been a long time coming, so enjoy.
"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!"
One star whose performance speaks for itself, but absolutely requires mentioning, is Jarvis Landry. Quite simply, Landry should be awarded the #7 jersey because he is the reincarnation of The Honey Badger on offense. He is as ferocious and unstoppable as Tyrann Mathieu was in purple and gold, and it's fitting that he burst onto the national stage in Cowboys Stadium the same way Mathieu did in back to back games in the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M and against Oregon to kick off the 2011 season.
Could the Jarvis-wock be the next great LSU nickname?? Perhaps not, but it would be fitting indeed, given his compact strength, talon like grip, and fierce intensity to harass any defenders that would dare to take him on in coverage, or even more foolishly, when he is blocking downfield. Even when defenders are blatantly interfering with him, as they were several times Saturday night with no flags, the Jarvis-wocky is still likely to make the catch, as he did on his game clinching touchdown reception despite being outright assaulted on the play.
Now operating out of his natural slot position, Landry as well as Odell Beckham both appear poised for great seasons. And while Mettenberger wisely chose to depend on the two veteran pass catchers against a stellar TCU secondary, Travin Dural's moment to shine will likely come in the next two weeks as the deep passing game is developed even further than it was Saturday night. Desean Smith saw plenty of action at tight end as well, although TCU's 4-2-5 defense made it difficult for him earn many looks inside. But he will also emerge as a dangerous threat as we go forward.
I certainly have to take the time to mention the outstanding play of Terrance Magee at running back. Admittedly, I didn't even mention Magee in my preseason posts because after spending 2012 as a wide receiver, he was clearly the fourth option behind Blue, Hilliard, and Hill. With Hill held out of the game as expected, Magee moved up the depth chart and made the most of his opportunity when Blue and Hilliard struggled early against a swarming TCU defense that Gary Patterson had primed to stop the run. His carries were crucial to sustaining multiple drives, and obviously his 52 yard TD run changed the game. Given his experience at wide receiver last year, I'm especially excited about his potential to be a dangerous weapon as a receiving threat out of the backfield going forward, similar to the way Joseph Addai was able to become after moving from receiver to running back early in his career.
While LSU's rushing game was stymied most of the night running out of our power formations, LSU found the most success late in the game once Cam Cameron began calling draws from 3 receiver sets and shotgun formations. This caught the TCU defense off balance, and both Blue and Magee ripped off more than one big gain once that switch was made. That simple adjustment was possible because of the threat that Mettenberger and the passing game had proven to be. This increased flexibility for the ground game to operate without a fullback and tight ends is going to be another benefit of Mettenberger's success.
The offensive line looked absolutely dominant as expected in pass protection, which was enough to bring tears of joy after last year's struggles. Everyone appears to be playing at their natural positions, and our bookend tackles will present extreme challenges to any team we face going forward. Lael Collins thrived as expected in the left tackle role, Jerald Hawkins was even better than advertised on the right side, and Alexander and Turner are natural born maulers inside at guard. Center play was solid if not spectacular, and Ethan Pocic may warrant more of a look there now over the next two weeks before we get to SEC play.
While run blocking may have seemed frustratingly inconsistent, it cannot be overstated how good Gary Patterson's teams are at stopping the run, and how desperately they were stacking the box to force Mettenberger to beat them through the air. Few teams in the country have the NFL talent in the secondary that TCU does to play their corners on an island while leaving 8 and 9 men in the box, so expect our receivers to have even more success as we go forward and Mettenberger isn't forced to deliver throws into airtight coverage, which he did to remarkable success. That adjustment of dropping extra defenders to offset our air attack will also allow LSU's ground game to overwhelm outmatched defensive front sevens as they historically do so well.
Add in the fact that Jeremy Hill, LSU's most talented back, will likely be back in action this week, and the sky is truly the limit for our newfound offensive powerhouse.
"Curiouser and curiouser!"
While the offense rolled on with barely a hiccup, something felt just a bit off with our traditionally relentless defense. Some period of adjustment was certainly expected given all of the losses to the NFL and the fluid nature of the depth chart at most positions, but there did appear to be a noticeable lack of game changing plays. It is not something that I am going to be overly concerned about at this point though, as TCU switched quarterbacks after halftime, and that took our young defenders a little more time to adjust than we may have needed in the past.
On the bright side, I was happy to see our defensive ends play a solid game, specifically Jordan Allen. He was tireless in his pursuit of both TCU quarterbacks, and would have had at least one sack had it not been for blatant holding that the ridiculous Big 10 officiating crew seemed content to allow. Danielle Hunter was aggressive as well, and both were able to alter and hurry throws throughout the night. Surprisingly, Jemauria Rasco made the least impact of the three, but expect his play to improve.
The ends benefitted from the disruptive presence of Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson at tackle. Freak and Ego appear poised to become LSU's best tackle tandem since Kyle Williams and Glenn Dorsey terrorized offenses in Miles' first year in 2005. Aside from Ego's foolish personal foul penalty that kept a touchdown drive alive, his play was exceptional, and bodes very well for the Tigers going forward.
The secondary was also solid, as both Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins provided outstanding coverage all night long. Craig Loston seemed a step slow as he adjusted to the responsibility of making the calls to his secondary. Once he becomes more comfortable, look for his playmaking instincts to take over the way they did in 2012. Micah Eugene was another player that made impact plays, and I believe he has already proven that he deserves snaps over a nondescript Ronald Martin.
The most curious case occurred at linebacker. We played in a nickel package most of the night, so there were usually only two linebackers on the field. Lamin Barrow and DJ Welter took the vast majority of snaps, and neither made much of an impact. Barrow was at least in position on most plays, but Welter noticeably missed several assignments. Unfortunately, Tahj Jones had a minor injury early in the week and was unable to travel with the team, but he is expected to be back this week.
Given the challenge that TCU provided, I suppose Miles and Chavis decided to go with age before beauty when at all possible to avoid mistakes due to inexperience. Over the next two weeks, however, expect to see many more fresh faces getting serious playing time, especially at linebacker and in the secondary.
As curious as the struggles of the defense may have seemed, however, it's important to remember that LSU gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown, and TCU scored a touchdown after getting the ball at the 5 yard line after Alfred Blue's uncharacteristic fumble. Take those away, and the Tigers only gave up an impressive 13 points. And while TCU scored a FG on their first drive of the night on a 71 yard drive, after that series LSU only gave up 188 yards the rest of the night.
So all in all this was an extremely impressive and well rounded win against a team that will challenge seriously for the Big 12 title and will once again have one of the best defenses in the country. In fact, TCU is so well respected, they remain ranked at #24 in both polls even though they are 0-1.
"Sentence first, verdict afterwards."
Make no mistake, aside from Clemson, who are poised for a championship type season after beating top 5 Georgia, there was no more impressive team in week 1 than the LSU Tigers.
Certainly not the mighty Crimson Tide, who the media had already once again anointed as the best team in the land before the season began. Alabama's offense struggled the way LSU's had so often these past few years, accounting for only 14 points as they could manage only a paltry 206 yards of total offense against an unranked Virginia Tech team.
Without the iron curtain of the offensive line we discussed last week, Alabama mustered only 98 yards rushing on 38 carries, and AJ McCarron completed just over 40% of his passes and threw his first interception of the season. Last year, McCarron didn't throw his first interception until November 10th.
While no one is claiming that Alabama is not more than capable of improving as the year goes on, it is simply worth taking another look at the landscape of the SEC West now that the wonderful adventure of the 2013 college football season has officially begun.
Enjoy the next three weeks in the friendly confines of Death Valley, as I am most confident that our beloved Tigers certainly will.
"Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."